First Iron Man, then Batman, and now – Tyler Durden? In a recent interview with GQ, leading man Brad Pitt announced that he had quit drinking and was now living a sober life. His honesty is an inspiration to the many people living with substance use disorder.
The first time I saw Pitt on screen, he was playing Floyd, a long-haired, couch-surfing stoner in True Romance. Surrounded by smoke in every one of his scenes, Floyd was a burnout. He smoked a page of an important letter; he was immune to the threats of the mafia. Along with everyone else in the theater, I laughed when he yelled at his roommate to bring home beer – and cleaning products. It wasn’t until years later, when Pitt’s weed use made headlines, that I connected the dots. Maybe it wasn’t an act, after all.
“Floyd” became a household name after roles in Thelma And Louise and Legends of the Fall. He tried to shake the “heartthrob” image with serious roles, but it did net him 61 acting awards, including an Oscar and two Emmys. Now 53, Pitt is still one of the most successful, best known actors in Hollywood. He’s gone from big screen hottie to low-key dad, but it seems that, like so many people who struggle with addiction, his drinking and drug use followed him to the top.
During his divorce from actress and producer Angelina Jolie, Pitt’s drinking and drug use got the full media scrutiny. He was seen at the Allied premier looking gaunt. Filing for divorce, Jolie said her choice was “for the health of the family,” which may have alluded to Pitt’s issue with substances. Like everyone else, I saw the tabloid headlines and wondered how much of it was true – and, if so, how long it had been going on.
“Pitt’s openness and honesty show the importance of recovering out loud.”
My own drug use crept up on me, as it does for so many people. After I was prescribed opiate painkillers for an ankle injury, I developed a physical dependency on the drug – medicating a pain I wasn’t even sure was there any more. I progressed to a psychological dependency, and as my tolerance increased, I turned to harder, less expensive drugs. At the end of my drug use, I was a daily heroin user. If I hadn’t had a moment of clarity, I wouldn’t have reached out for help – I would have just kept calling my dealer. Getting into recovery, I kept wondering, “How did this happen?” I was shocked at how quickly my substance use had escalated.
When I heard Pitt’s story, I totally related. What started out as a good thing – a glass of wine, some recreational marijuana to unwind – quickly turned into an unmanageable, destructive problem. “I just ran it to the ground,” Pitt told GQ. “I had to step away for a minute. And truthfully I could drink a Russian under the table with his own vodka.”
Substance use disorder doesn’t appear overnight – although, tragically, someone’s first drug use can be their last. Often, people drink and use drugs for years before they finally hit bottom. And it creates a lot of wreckage. The tragedy of addiction is that it’s around us all the time, no matter where we live. Over months, years, and decades, untreated substance use creates problems for more people than just the person with the problem. It can destroy families, friendships, and communities. On the way down, people in active addiction alienate friends and family, burn bridges, lose our jobs, and even become homeless.
Celebrities like Brad Pitt, Ben Affleck, Robert Downey, Jr., and Alec Baldwin, who have gone public with their recovery, have a lot further to fall than the average person. Wealth, popularity, and plenty of yes-men can be a killer combination for stars. Pitt himself has said, “Success is a beast. And it actually puts the emphasis on the wrong thing. You get away with more instead of looking within.”
Many people, like River Phoenix and Heath Ledger, don’t make it out. The same industry culture that celebrates them can also be fatal. That’s why it’s so inspiring to see people like Pitt make the move to get sober on their own, because they know they need to – before it’s too late. Although Pitt hasn’t shared how he got sober, beyond saying he “just did it,” hopefully this interview is the beginning of more from him on his journey to recovery.
Brad Pitt’s openness and honesty show the importance of recovering out loud. Addiction and substance use thrive in the dark – by opening up, and sharing our stories, we not only help other people by erasing the stigma of addiction. We also help ourselves by living our recovery without shame and by treating it like what it is: part of us and part of our lives.
“For me this period has really been about looking at my weaknesses and failures and owning my side of the street,” Pitt said. “For me every misstep has been a step toward epiphany, understanding, some kind of joy. Yeah, the avoidance of pain is a real mistake. It’s the real missing out on life. It’s those very things that shape us, those very things that offer growth, that make the world a better place, oddly enough, ironically. That make us better.”
Brad, I lift a cranberry-and-Perrier to you. People like you do so much to give a face to the addiction crisis that claims so many lives. Thank you for your honesty, your courage, and your willingness to open up about your recovery. I hope that as you continue on this path, you find the epiphany you seek―-and the many gifts that recovery brings.